A non-partisan journal of the left.

Racism By Any Other Name Smells

Fri 27th Jul 2012

What is really behind the rash of new voter identification laws in the US? We have available a scientific answer, one not distorted by political rhetoric or blatantly ridiculous reasons ("We really only want to prevent voter fraud" - all of a sudden!).

ScienceDaily (SD) recently reported on a new scientific poll undertaken by the Center for Political Communication at the University of Delaware. SD doesn't use the term "racism" (that appears to be too prejudicial) but instead refers to "racial resentment." People might object to being called "racists" but everybody has something or other that they resent so being "resentful" seems to be a neutral term and nobody's feelings need be hurt. Anyway, what's in a name?

The poll reveals, by coincidence no doubt, that the new voter ID laws have their strongest support among those "who harbour negative sentiments toward African Americans." Who would have guessed?

Non-African Americans who took the poll were also asked a series of questions devised to measure "racial resentment" and the results showed that "support for voter ID laws is highest among those with the highest levels of "racial resentment." One of the two lead researchers, Paul Brewer, is quoted as saying, "These findings suggest that Americans' attitudes about race play an important role in driving their views on voter ID laws." Just to make it clear, the more racist you are the more likely you are going to be in favour of the new voter ID laws.

The poll also found that the biggest racists just happen to be Republicans and Conservatives (they have "the highest 'racial resentment' scores"). Not that there is no racism in other groups - but the least amount of racial resentment was found to occur in Democrats and Liberals. However the researchers still found a "surprising" level of support for the ID laws among Democrats and liberals and this support correlated with the level of "racial resentment" expressed by Democrats and Liberals. Unlike the Democrats and Liberals, however, Republicans and Conservatives in general are all for the ID laws "regardless of how much 'racial resentment' they express."

The poll also supported the views of US Attorney General Eric Holder that these ID laws are a throwback to the days of Jim Crow. It is especially worrisome to see them popping up in the Southern states with a history of Jim Crow and the disenfranchisement of Black people.

What can we conclude from the release of this polling information? I think it is fair to say we not only have a scientific basis for maintaining that racism is still widespread in the US but we find its main locus is concentrated in the Republican Party and the Conservative movement which seeks to politically institutionalise a new version of Jim Crow. The right supports this racist revival in principle, independently of the high level of racism of its supporters. The Democrats and liberals have problems with racist attitudes as well but they are personal individual manifestations and not part of the ideological program of the Democratic Party.

A further conclusion is that there is more at stake in the upcoming elections in November than just a possible change in which party controls the Congress or the Presidency. The issue is the nature of the type of country we are going to have in the twenty-first century. The Republicans, the party of racism and reaction, seek to undo all the democratic gains of the civil rights movement, especially the right to vote, and lead our country to the dark side. A Democratic victory will throw a roadblock in front of this attempt and open the way for the American people to struggle to increase and deepen democratic rights in the future.
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